When Kodak introduced their Pocket Instamatic Camera and the 110 film cartridge in 1972 almost all of the major Japanese camera companies jumped on board with their own 110 cameras. Most manufacturers followed the Kodak pattern of a thin, wide rectangular box-like camera and a thumb operated slide on the bottom to advance the film. Many had fixed focus lenses but the better models featured zone or even rangefinder focusing. And then there was the Pentax. Incredible as it seems, their offering was a Single Lens Reflex camera with interchangeable lenses and Through The Lens metering.
When Pentax introduced its Auto 110 SLR camera in late 1978 it caught the world by surprise. It was incredibly small, cute even, and it was a true SLR with TTL (through-the-lens) center-weighted metering and interchangeable lenses. And, it was camera system (the official Pentax name for the camera and system was System 10) and is generally believed to be the smallest SLR camera system ever made. Initially, there were 3 lenses: 18mm f/2.8 wide angle, 24 mm f/2.8 normal, and 50 mm f/2.8 telephoto. Later, in 1980, 20-40 mm zoom, 70 mm telephoto, and 18 mm Pan Focus lenses were introduced. But, besides the lenses, what made this a camera system were all of the accessories that included UV and skylight filters, close-up lens sets, and rubber lens hoods along with 2 different flashes and a motor drive! Well — okay — maybe not a true motor drive but a motorized film advance that cranked along at 1.5 frames per second.
The exposure was fully automatic with no manual settings and the programmed exposures ranged from 1/750 second at f/13.5 to 1 second at f/2.8. There is a warning light indicating long exposure times and for those longer exposures, there are tripod and cable release sockets. It is, of course, through the lens focusing, with a bright viewfinder and a split image focusing aid in the center. The lenses attach with a bayonet mount coming on and off with a ¼ turn. The film advance is right where it should be on an SLR and it takes 2 strokes to advance the film and cock the shutter. The electronic flash mount is unique; it uses a threaded contact about the size of a tripod socket. The light output is controlled by a sensor in the flash.
I’ve always considered the Asahi Pentax line of cameras to be among the most attractive made and the Auto 110 is no exception. It clearly takes its design cues from its big brother the Spotmatic F and is just about as cute as cute can be. And, though it is cute and could be mistaken for a toy, it is a serious camera. It feels good in the hand and is fun to use. Though small, the camera is easy to hold and the fingers fall naturally on the shutter and focusing ring. The lenses are very sharp and give bright, vivid images. Because 110 films are getting harder to find a lot of Auto 110s are being sold on eBay. I bought one with 3 lenses, flash, and auto winder for about 25 US dollars and another with all of the filters, lens hoods, front and rear lens caps, and flash and auto winder for about 50 US dollars.
One word of warning: there is a 90% chance that the battery door of the auto winder will be broken. In a phenomenal example of bad design, it’s almost impossible to figure out how to open it without breaking it.
This is just a very fun camera. I like to mount the 50 mm lens and screw on the 2 close-up adapters and crawl around my garden. Who knows what I will find and photograph with this little gem?
This article was written by Community member kdstevens.